7 Days Living with the NOMADS OF IRAN
Welcome to Iran. Over the next week, I'll be living with a truly nomadic family and joining them on their epic journey as they migrate to new pastures with their giant flock of 600 goats and sheep right here in the Zagros Mountains of Iran. A couple of years ago, I received a message from an Iranian Instagram page inviting me to join them on something called a <i><i>Kooch</i></i> in Iran. I soon found out that a <i><i>Kooch</i></i> is the dangerous seasonal journey that Iran's nomads make with their animals in search of greener pastures. So, Iran is one of the last countries in the world with a truly nomadic community.
When I say nomadic, I mean people who actually don't have a fixed house but live in tents with their families and tend to their livestock for a living. Half a century ago, around a quarter of Iran's population was nomadic, but recent governments have attempted to settle down the nomads in a bid to modernize the country. Today only around one percent of the population lives nomadically, and a fraction of this percentage makes the annual <i><i>Kooch</i></i> with their animals. Anyway, two years after that first message from IRANomad Tours, our tiny group of hikers embarked on the nomadic odyssey with a beautiful family of Bakhtiari people. Khorshid and Tala, their children and their relatives.
I didn't know it yet, but this was going to be one of the toughest, most adventurous journeys of my life. Welcome to the Zagros Mountains. I've dreamt of seeing these wild mountains for the longest time.
The Zagros are home to many nomadic people who have been crossing their peaks and valleys for centuries. Starting from day one, we were thrown in at the deep end. I've climbed Aconcágua, and I've climbed Kilimanjaro, and honestly, I can tell you guys that this gives me much more anxiety than either of those two mountains.
When the goats start rolling down the hill, it honestly feels like a storm coming in. Needless to say, keeping up with the men as they heard at the goats across the mountains was nearly impossible for me, so on most days, we joined the women who traveled just a little bit more slowly with their family possessions on the backs of their donkeys and mules. After the very first day of hiking alongside the family, I realized that this trip is going to be very intense. We were just guests here, but we had to keep up with their pace and adapt to their way of life for the week. Welcome home. We have just arrived at our new destination just for tonight.
This is it. I know it looks pretty simple. I'm going to show you around in just a second. I just want to point out how impressive it is that the nomads, the Bakhtiari nomads have these kinds of stone structures scattered all along their migration routes, and these structures have been here for centuries providing shelter and a place to stay, a place to rest for this community.
It's pretty amazing. Starting with probably the most important spot, the enclosure for the baby goats. This is it. Here's a little baby goat of our own. So the baby goats go in here, and they're sheltered from wild animals. They're safe, and warm, and close to the family who live here. This is where they're going to spread out their mats, where they're going to sleep, and eat, and rest, and over here, that is the fireplace.
This is where we're going to be cooking our meals, cooking our chai, and getting warm throughout the night, and here is our storage space all along this wall. That's it. Oh, and our tent's over there. I was about to get a small taste of what it's like to be a nomadic shepherd.
Khorshid just asked us for a little bit of help with herding the sheep for the night, and honestly, these guys are just not listening to me. This is hard work. Go, go, go, go! What are you doing just stopping in the middle... No, go! Go, go! Clearly, I have zero authority here. Come this way, another way, that way. All right. There we go.
Clearly, Khorshid was much, much better than me at this. I was fascinated by his and his family's way of life, and I wanted to get to know him a little bit better. And the sheep are back home safe and sound. The next morning brought bad news.
During the night, a wolf attacked the family's herd killing two sheep just next to our camp. This was a big financial blow to the family, leaving Tala in tears. The family's dogs finished off what remained of the carcasses. Things only got worse as the day progressed. We had entered a narrow mountain gorge, one of the most dangerous parts of the entire route. Animals die here regularly.
We are still stuck in this canyon donkey traffic jam, and it seems like there's more goats coming our way. This canyon is gonna get really full really quickly. I just hope that you guys manage to get their donkeys out of the way before the next herd gets here. Honestly, just being here and watching this short but very dangerous journey through the canyon unfold makes me feel so anxious, but you know this shortcut saves the nomads over a day of having to walk all around the mountain, and that's why they take it despite the fact that it's pretty dangerous especially for the animals, for the donkeys, the mules and the horses, but if I were them I would probably also choose to take the shortcut.
We finally managed to get out of the gorge after about an hour of pushing and pulling, scrambling, stress. We're done, bye. Oh my god, we're done. That was definitely one of the most nerve-wracking extreme experiences in my travel life. That afternoon we were all completely spent.
Everyone looked relieved to arrive at the next camp. Packing and unpacking, packing and unpacking twice a day during the migration. I mean, these guys are so efficient at this it's honestly like watching a perfectly tuned system at work. The way they just grab everything, put it down, and then open it up and make a new home every day.
This is just absolutely incredible. Let me tell you a tiny little secret. I don't know if it's because of my Eastern European roots or what, but fresh bread and fresh butter melt my heart. They are like my number one favorite dish, and the nomads make fresh bread every single day, in fact, twice a day at breakfast and at lunch, so let me show you how it's done. So here's the thing, Masoumeh has literally just collected these greens from the meadow that you see around me there.
I mean, they just couldn't get more local, could they? And she chopped them up quickly, and then she threw them into the pot, and now we're cooking them, and soon we're going to have a delicious dinner. Taste test. Fresh, delicious, a little bit spicy, a little bit sour, the dinner is going to be perfect. All right, my turn at trying to make <i>naan</i> bread.
Masoumeh, behind the scenes, is telling me that I should... Okay, right, here we go. A bit of flour, a bit of rolling, here's the artistic part of the process. When the girls make the flatbread, they just kind of make it fly between their hands, and they stretch it out, and it's beautiful, and majestic, and elegant. This is not. Hop down.
I just spoiled that. Okay, stretch it, stretch it out. This is not working. It's still not round. Now it looks like a goat head, like a goat's skull, see.
And the final step is, you know when Tala slams the bread onto the pan, it's so cool and powerful, but I'm a little bit worried that I'm just gonna make everything fly so I'll do it gently. How did that happen? It was going so well. I guess it's probably edible, so... We were celebrating a bit of a special occasion that evening, and the family gave me a really wonderful gift.
Thank you, that is for me? Oh, thank you. It's actually my birthday today, and I didn't expect it at all, but I got a gift, it's a Bhaktyari style bag, it's absolutely beautiful, look at this. Oh my god, I'm so proud, and here is my birthday feast. Veggies straight from the meadow. We've got bread that we just baked ourselves, and we've got <i>dogh</i> which is pretty dangerous, very traditional sour milk.
This is all delicious. This is the bread that I baked myself, so I guess I have the honor of eating it. So, so good. I couldn't imagine a better place to celebrate my 30th birthday. No better place to make you feel alive than the open road. Last night Bahman just sleep at three, trying to bring the dogs, and the sheep, the goat.
Twenty, thirty of them were missing in another herd, so he found them and came back again, and now at six, he went again. Bahman and his father Khorshid worked around the clock keeping the herd together. The women had their own set of tasks. This is one of the main rituals of the nomadic life during the <i>Kooch</i> unpacking and packing and unpacking and packing several times a day. And when I say packing and unpacking, I mean they have to move all of their worldly possessions by just a few miles with every new day on donkeys, on mules, everything that they own. Mohammad, is this our stuff? - Yes. - Oh wow.
See, our stuff goes on the back of the donkey as well, so we are officially part of the nomadic way of life. And would you say your skills are equal to the nomads? Sometimes it's good to get a little bit of help. The distances we cross every day are too much for the baby sheep, so Tala tucks them into homemade satchels on the backs of donkeys. This is how the baby animals travel for the entirety of the migration. Baby sheep are really precious cargo.
They're very valuable, which is why the family makes sure that they are safe and sound on this long and arduous journey and that they can actually survive it, and then the tiny little baby goats that don't quite make it to the donkey train they are put in like rucksacks and bags and then carried on horseback. Honestly, the way that these baby animals are taken care of during the <i>Kooch</i> is one of the cutest things I've seen in my life. It's so sweet. We had another long day ahead of us today, with one of the most difficult traverses of the whole journey. We're about to reach the end of the canyon, and in the very end of it, there's just a giant nearly vertical wall which has got me wondering how on earth these guys behind me are going to make it to the top.
As you can imagine, I can barely make it. It's so slippery here. It's just loose rock. Yeah, that's not easy, at least not for me, for her, it is. Actually, it wasn't easy for anyone. We all struggled in our own ways. The humans and the animals bound to each other by the necessity and hardship of the journey.
Apparently, sheep have some sort of insect or worm in them, and if it lands in your mouth or your nose, it can make you incapable of eating anything for an entire week which is why I'm wearing this. I can't believe these animals are making their way up this really, really high steep incline. This is easily like 600 meters vertical. Good job, good job, good job, Dolly. Despite the difficulty of the journey, goats and sheep gave birth on route every single day.
Some babies died. Others survived. Whatever happened, the nomads in the herds just had to keep going. When we got to rest later in the day, we were invited to another family's camp.
The head of the family offered to read my future in a handful of peas. When a simple invitation for a cup of chai, cup of tea, turns into a fortune-telling session, you know, you're in a very special place. Right now, I should think of my biggest challenge, or problem, or question that I'm currently facing in my life, and hopefully, with this Bakhtiari magic session, it will be answered. So, I'm safe, my wish will come true.
Step after slow step, they ventured forth into these wild lands, every step a tribute to centuries-old tradition. Oh my god, there's so much joy and happiness in these dogs just playing in the snow. This was the rhythm of our days on the <i>Kooch</i>, walking, huffing and puffing and thinking we won't make it, then smiling at the majesty of nature and feeling deep gratitude at the fact of being here and of course, more tea invitations.
He's telling us that we just arrived to the cold waters lands. Bahman just shouted to us from the rocks that he just got that insect that I told you about that makes you unable to eat for a week, and we asked him to come and show us, and he says no, I was just kidding. I don't have it. That is probably a good thing.
This is fresh spring water from the land of the cold waters. Oh my god, it's so delicious. People sometimes say that champagne is the most luxurious drink in the world. I completely disagree, fresh spring water is the most luxurious drink in the world because how often, how often do you drink this straight from the mountain? It's definitely a luxury for me. Tea is a true symbol of hospitality here in Iran, and you won't get very far without drinking a cup or five. So, this is true nomadic hospitality.
We just got invited for a cup of hot sweet tea at the lunch spot of Ali Reza Mokhtari, who is the brother of Khorshid, our host. After all the tea and a little bit of rest, the journey must go on. You know, something has changed in me over the last few days that I've spent with the family here. I guess I came here with this idea that their life would just be idyllic, and stress-free, and beautiful at one with nature, but I realized very quickly after following them around for a few days that they also, of course, have their own challenges, their own worries, their own pressures, just perhaps a little bit different from the ones that we experience if we live in cities.
Although it may seem beautiful, and idyllic, and quaint on the surface, it's definitely not like that. They are out here on their own, having to solve all of their problems and challenges by themselves as a unit. Yes, at one with nature, yes, but still.
I guess they also lead ordinary lives just in a pretty extraordinary way. Several days into the <i>Kooch</i>, we came across one of the best friends and greatest enemies of the nomads. The raging waters of the Zagros. The nomads and their animals rely on water to survive in these dry mountains, but the rivers can be treacherous and risky to cross.
We all made it and the family didn't lose any animals and the evening as usual brought us some rest. All right, Masoumeh who is the younger son of the family is holding the camera while I get to work on the Mashk. So, you do it like this, you kind of shake up the milk to... I don't know, help it ferment or something like that to make it sour, and apparently, you do this for two hours.
Two hours of this is better than the gym. Add that to running after the sheep and the goats the entire day. Wow, you got an ultra-endurance athlete in the making. But even ultra-endurance athletes need a bit of downtime. The next morning we said hello to a tiny little baby sheep.
Every single day on the <i>Kooch</i> brought something new. Sometimes it was death, sometimes it was life. Whatever fortune threw in the way of the family that day, they knew they had to get up again and keep going.
As for us mere guests on this journey, it was time to say goodbye to the family after a week of hiking together through the wild Zagros Mountains. A week that brought us together as friends, as family, people from opposite sides of the world walking side by side. - Goodbye. - Goodbye. And that was it.
Khorshid, Tala and their family went on their way towards their home at the summer pasture, and we, I suppose we went back home too. You know, with stories like this, I never really know what to say in the wrap-up because whatever I say is not going to be enough to convey what actually happened the heart and the soul of the story. All I can say is that this was one of the most beautiful, memorable trips I've ever taken in my life, a true journey in a real sense of the word. But if there is one thought that I would like to leave you with, it's the following: For us people living in cities, it's very easy I think to romanticize the lives of those who live out in nature or in the mountains.
You know, we see their lives as very pure, and pristine, and simple and straightforward, but having seen the family of Khorshid and Tala with my own eyes and so many people like them in various parts of the world, I can tell you it's nothing quite like that. Yes, it's a beautiful life, but it has so many challenges that most of us cannot even imagine. So I want to thank the family of Khorshid and Tala for taking me along on their <i>Kooch</i>.
I am grateful that they accepted me into their flock, and even though I'm sure I didn't help them very much at least, I hope that you got to know them and their story a little bit better, and another big thank you to IRANomad Tours for organizing this whole trip it would not have happened without them. Guys, the world belongs to the brave truly, and for me, Tala and Khorshid family are some of the bravest people I have ever come across. Living a lifestyle that's on the verge of extinction, keeping up tradition and culture against all odds. The next series on this channel is going to be really quite different, but I hope that you stick around to see some more hopefully brave and free adventures in a very different part of the world.
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